Was it a dream, or was the audience of which I was a member transported, through some galactic mystery, back to the age of the “guy groups” of the 1950’s? Yes, think of The Four Aces, The Hi-Los, The Crew Cuts— you get the idea. And what an idea it was, coming from the mind of its author/producer/director/choreographer, Stuart Ross, who once had Yours Truly as an “angel” investor for his earlier New York production of the wonderful Boswell Sisters retrospective, “The Heebie Jeebies.” But it was this latest Ross creation, “Forever Plaid,” that would go on to widespread success around the globe. I enjoyed it in New York in its early days, and then again, perhaps ten or twelve years ago, at Houston’s Alley Theatre. And now it has been well served by North Houston’s wonderful new company, Texas Repertory Theatre.
The show, directed by Craig A. Miller, begins on a simple, unadorned stage (Designer, Jesse Dreikosen), that has as its centerpiece onstage, a mint-condition, 1954 Mercury Monterey convertible that was worth the price of admission. The talented cast of four included Jeff Simmons (Jinx), Mark Laskowski (Smudge) and two faces familiar to this critic from their previous fine work in Montgomery College productions, David Kerr as Sparky, and Lorne Kelley as Frankie. Alas, these singing Four Plaids are wiped out in a car wreck in the first scene. That’s when the fun begins, as their spirits assemble in the afterlife to at last perform the great concert this struggling quartet could only dream of in life. A mellow “Three Coins in A Fountain,” a rapid-fire “Gotta Be This or That,” a brisk and breezy, “Undecided Now,” and a very pleasing “Moments to Remember,” hinted of the vocal musical delights to come. These would only be marred by a tendency toward excessive synchronized hand gestures and dance steps (Choreographer, Gwen Speed) to accompany every syllable in every song.
Happily, there were pleasant exceptions to that rule, as in the case of the smooth and appealing “No Not Much,” which rightly focused on the outstanding harmonies of these talented singers while the gents sat calmly on bar stools without shenanigans. “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby” was full of zip, and the audience enjoyed the flamenco style antics of “Perfidia.” The lightweight banter of the script was a bit too silly at times, but the show boasts some wonderful piano accompaniment from Music Director, Adam Wiggins, and Amber Harbison ably assisted him on bass. The lighting projections of designer, Robert Eubanks, were a frequent asset lending interest to a generally bare stage, and rosy lighting accented some mellow solo work from Mr. Simmons during the guys’ rendition of the old Johnny Ray hit, “Cry.” It reminded me of a wonderful night long ago in Las Vegas, when I heard Mr. Ray sing that very song in the chic lounge high atop the old Dunes Hotel.
“Sixteen Tons” had enough finger-snapping to cause arthritis; but there was a pleasant tribute to Perry Como that included “Papa Loves Mambo” and a “Catch a Falling Star” that had nice solo work from Kerr. Calypso music was represented well with “Dayo,” “Jamaica Farewell,” and a fun-filled “Matilda,” that really got the audience happily involved. “Heart and Soul” was another pleasantly performed standard, followed by a show highlight, the send-up spoof of The Ed Sullivan Show. It was great fun as the three-minute bit attempts hilariously to mimic every variety artist that ever crossed Sullivan’s stage.
Costumes for the guys (designer, Fernando Zamudio) included Crisp white dinner jackets at the outset, and later, sharp black tuxedos trimmed in, what else? –Plaid! The delicious finale of “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” seemed an appropriate reminder of the genuine love that theatre artists like those at Texas Rep are bringing to the communities they serve.
Texas Repertory Theatre Co. is located in Northwood Plaza at 14243 Steubner Airline in Houston, Texas. For more information call 281-583-7573 or visit the website at www.TexRepTheatre.org.